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LOS ANGELES – Conan O’Brien has signed a deal with NBC to exit the “Tonight” show, making way for rival Jay Leno to reclaim the time slot.

After days of negotiations and controversy over NBC’s decision to move Leno’s show back to 11.35 p.m. and bump O’Brien back to after midnight, the network confirmed Thursday that “a deal is signed and an official announcement will be made this morning”.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the agreement was expected to include a payoff of about $32 million for O’Brien and about $12 million for his staff.

The newspaper said a “non-disparagement clause” had also been included in the deal with the 46-year-old O’Brien.

In the late-night tradition of a star-studded goodbye, O’Brien’s guests Thursday included such big names as Robin Williams and Barry Manilow. Tom Hanks was scheduled for Friday, as was Will Ferrell — the first guest O’Brien welcomed when he started last June as “Tonight” host.

The show previously had been scheduled for reruns next week.

The deal is also expected to allow O’Brien to work at another network as soon as this fall.

Both O’Brien and Leno have made repeated references to the dispute in their shows.

Referring to the stormy California weather Wednesday, Leno said, “This rain couldn’t have come at a worse possible time. Today was the day NBC was supposed to burn down the studio for the insurance money.”

On Tuesday, O’Brien quipped he was “just three days away from the biggest drinking binge in history”.

Via: MSNBC News.com 

(CB)

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